Saturday, December 09, 2006

Semester is over, and I am free to muse now, for 6 weeks

Even though I am officially on vacation now, for 6 weeks, I am just so curious about this idea of planning for a course on the future of the book: my idea is to spend 1 semester creating a networked book/paper/project of some sort. The second semester would document that effort and flesh out the design of an iSchool course on the subject.
There are several ebook editors/readers to use and experiment with: dotReader and fckeditor (open source), but I can't get fckeditor 2.3.2 to install properly. Every time I try, with either browser, I get a big zipped file with no executable in it, that I can tell. I had this problem with vkb also, and had to get Benn to install it for me. I didn't figure out what he did to make it work, however, so if I get him to help me again, I need to find out what he does to get it to install and run. There is a pay editor/reader, tk3, that seems to have a good audience, but I'd rather go with the open source dotReader/fckeditor.
I'm finding a lot more written on the future of the book via the topic of ebooks. This isn't really what I envision, but maybe it's where we are right now. An ebook seems separated from the rest of the web, which doesn't mean it's not networked, and interactive, and social, but it's not the same in some significant ways. I need to articulate what's wrong with that, understand the trade offs in being 100% in the Web (ie, readable through a browser), and decide where the best bet lies for me, and for other authors whose values might be different from mine. So I'm sort of thinking of doing an assessment of the state of the art in edistribution of literary and a/v works, and classifying the different products according to what their strengths and weaknesses or benefits and costs are, sort of how they would stack up depending on what you want to achieve as an author/illustrator/artist, etc.
I'll no doubt have moved on to something else by then, but it also occurs to me that this could make an interesting dissertation topic -- the future of the book: state of the art 200x. But where would you go with that? What's needed? Implications for publishing and libraries? Is there really a groundswell of interest in publishing in new ways or is my perspective skewed? And to what extent is the interest pecuniary versus people just wanting to get what they have to say out there in front of an audience? And how effective is private epublishing not-for-profit? What are the implications of all the different authoring and reading tools? I already sense, just in the tiny amount of time I've spent thinking about where to start for my first networked publication, that the choice of a reader is major. You are seemingly stuck with it, whatever it is, and it's like the Betamax/VCR thing. You don't want to choose the format that gets sidelined in a couple of years. And only those people who have your reader can read your book. That just doesn't seem to make sense. Not for the long-term viability of the creative community. Who would want to create for a tiny audience when you could create for a huge one? I know the standards people are working to make this better (OEPSS -- Open ebook publication structure specification), but they don't seem to be in any particular hurry...
But, I'm supposedly into experimentation here, not getting married. So I need to publish small things whose lack of circulation won't keep me up at night nor will I lose sleep over whether they are in obsolete formats in a few years. I can keep the source files and move them if I want to.
So the first thing to do is to choose a first publication. I thought of maybe doing the digital distribution article, because I wrote it specifically to start a conversation, but I only get occasional visitors to the fair use article. I'd hardly call it a conversation. I just don't know what the options are for reaching the audience I want to reach. Geez, I could just send the .doc file to 100 people, but that doesn't start a conversation. And most of my copyright friends are way too busy to blog and comment on blogs and engage over sections and paragraphs. I just don't know how to get started. Maybe a more interesting piece, the story of the smoke in Guatemala, with some illustrations. But it's not a conversation piece. Well, I have to start somewhere...

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